Short Education History in Bullet Form – Part I

Let’s wrap up 2016 with a bullet-point summary of the history of education in America over the last 200+ years. We will start with the roots of the compulsory graded classroom model as invented and first put into practice by the late 18th and early 19th century Prussians.

Image result for old school house
“The old Limestone Schoolhouse, shown around 1910. One-room schoolhouses were in use from the early 1700s here. A dozen were functioning in the mid-1800s. In 1915, many closed when the new Benjamin Franklin Grammar School opened on East Ridge (it’s now the core of the “old high school” building). Others closed in 1925 and the last, in 1939.”

Preface: 2 points to always keep in mind.

  1. While I may be more trustworthy than most, insofar as I am mortified by and correct any untruths I may pass along, nevertheless: don’t believe me, or rather perhaps, don’t believe *me*. Do your own research. This story lays out the issues with trusting sources, and neatly lays out the mentality that has gotten us into our present predicament. (Note especially that the story is told of a small boy, in school, expecting praise. He is Everyboy, and Everygirl. Of whatever age.)
  2. It is common to label any account that contradicts accepted wisdom as a conspiracy theory. Thus, as I lay out the history of education with publically-available sources, using direct quotations when possible, and show that the ideas presented represent the central philosophy and are not just some fringe character having a melt down, it is labeled a conspiracy theory. It is as if those who take the time to understand, say, the Federalist Papers or algebra are *conspiring* against those who do not. The Fichte=>Humboldt=>Harvard and Fichte=>Humboldt=>Horace Mann=> Massachusetts Dept of Ed. path to compulsory graded classroom education in America is simple historical fact, as is their constant purpose in doing so. I’ll try to be clear when I’m speculating versus when I’m just laying stuff out.

First set of bullet points:

  • Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation (1808/9) were profoundly influential to the development of the modern research university and modern compulsory graded classroom schooling. For example, from the The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Though these lectures later obtained a place of dubious honor as founding documents in the history of German nationalism, they are mainly concerned with the issue of national identity (and particularly with the relationship between language and nationality) and the question of national education (which is the main topic of the work) (emphasis mine)—both of which are understood by Fichte as means toward a larger, cosmopolitan end.

Fichte had always had a lively interest in pedagogical issues and assumed a leading role in planning the new Prussian university to be established in Berlin (though his own detailed plans for the same were eventually rejected in favor of those put forward by Wilhelm von Humboldt). When the new university finally opened in 1810, Fichte was the first head of the philosophical faculty as well as the first elected rector of the university.

  • The new University of Berlin was the model for all modern research universities. Fichte was given a central role there by Humboldt, because the purpose of the University was to bring to completion the project the lower schools were instituted to achieve: the creation of “a new type of citizen who had to be capable of proving themselves responsible.” Whatever that means.

Students, in his (Humboldt’s) view, had to learn to think autonomously and work in a scientific way by taking part in research. The foundation of Berlin University served as a model. It was opened in 1810 and the great men of the era taught there – Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, the historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr and the jurist Friedrich Carl von Savigny.[113]

  • Fichte took an ancient Christian idea, that true freedom is only obtained when we choose to follow the will of God, and stood it on its head: true freedom is obtained when we are unable to think other than what our school masters tell us to think.

Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.

  • All school masters in Fichte’s utopia are trained and employed by the government. School masters are the chosen instruments of the government. In the above quotation, school masters take the place of God.
  • In Fichte’s view, the major driver of a child’s behavior is a desire for the approval of his father. In his view, this desire can be easily refocused on the school master, whose approval shall be doled out based on how well the child conforms to the wishes of the state.
  • In order to facilitate this transfer and replace the child’s father with the state, Fichte wanted all school-age children completely removed from their families and homes for the duration of their educations. (1)
  • Education is not about reading and writing. Pestalozzi, a contemporary of Fichte and a prominent education reformer, was, in Fichte’s view, overly concerned with reading and writing:

Undoubtedly it was solely the desire to release from school as soon as possible the very poorest children for bread-winning, and yet to provide them with a means of making up for the interrupted instruction, that gave rise in Pestalozzi’s loving heart to the over-estimation of reading and writing, to the setting up of these as almost the aim and climax of popular education, and to his simple belief in the testimony of past centuries, that this is the best aid to instruction. For otherwise he would have found that reading and writing have been hitherto just the very instruments for enveloping men in mist and shadow and for making them conceited.(2)

Addresses, sec 136

Summary, part I (we’re into the opinion section now): From at least the time of Luther up into the mid-20th century, education reform as a means of inculcating morality into a nation has been a hot topic among leading Germans. Before Fichte, the Prussian kings had already instituted reforms with that in mind, although they hadn’t gotten very far.

By 1810, Fichte and Humboldt stood in the middle of a confluence and an opportunity: France had destroyed the Prussian armies, and with it a good bit of the Prussian hubris. Fichte delivered his Addresses while Berlin was still occupied by Napoleon’s troops. The combination of Fichte’s soaring nationalistic rhetoric, Prussian humiliation, institutional disruption caused by the war, the early blossoming of the industrial revolution in Prussia, and Humboldt’s political power came together in such a way that the educational reforms contemplated by the Prussian leadership for a couple hundred years got put into practice.

This practice is everything an American should hate: the unstated assumption is that the wisdom of a nation resides in its princes, the rich, and other leaders, who then have the right and duty to impose that wisdom on the people. Americans believe, or at least believed when the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were held sacred, that the wisdom of a nation resides in its *people* who then get to tell the leaders what they want.

We won the war, but surrendered to King George, and worse than King George, anyway. Our schools are the tool and price of that surrender.

Image result for john taylor gatto
“You see, like a great magician he had shifted that commonplace school lesson we would have forgotten by the next morning into a formidable challenge to the entire contents of our private minds, raising the important question, Who can we believe? At the age of eight, while public school children were reading stories about talking animals, we had been escorted to the eggshell-thin foundation upon which authoritarian vanity rests and asked to inspect it.There are many reasons to lie to children, the Jesuit said, and these seem to be good reasons to older men. Some truth you will know by divine intuition, he told us, but for the rest you must learn what tests to apply. Even then be cautious. It is not hard to fool human intelligence.”


  1. That the physical removal of all children from their families has not proved practical so far does not mean it does not remain the ideal in the view of the educational establishment.
  2. Fichte is saying this to a people who for the previous 250 years have been told that any plowboy who can read can find the truth of Scripture on his own.


So this here is blog post 1,000. First off, thanks to my regular readers, who seem to number somewhere in the 30-40 range, for stopping by, reading my humble ramblings, and thus encouraging me to continue. Lots of great comments over the years.

I’ve been at this for 7 years; at it more or less seriously for 4, since November of 2012 – that’s when I started consistently posting 10 – 20 times a month.  100,000 page views seemed in reach as well, but for unknown reasons the number of views is lower this year than last, after years of a steady upward trend. I’ll hit that milestone, such as it is, early next year.

Top posts:


One post remain one of the Internet’s preferred sources of analysis on John Donne’s Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day. The humble write-up assembles in one place a bunch of factoids and conjectures on this poem I’ve never seen assembled in one place before, and which one is unlikely to come across or put together just casually reading. So, perhaps this is my one small service. (1)

Iconography – started out posting quite a bit on this topic, but stopped, because anyone could find out anything I might say on the subject reading any decent book on the topic. I want to be value add in some sense, however little that value might be. I do have vivid memories of the two times I’ve managed to make it to Europe in my life, time I spent gawking at great art. Maybe I should resume, but focus on stuff I saw in person?  That ‘Fra Angelico: Annunciation‘ is one such as that.

Both those top posts got that way without benefit of incoming traffic from links posted elsewhere. The next batch show up because somebody much more widely read than I linked to them:

The World is Made of Styrofoam Balls and Pipe Cleaners  got linked by some grade school science education program somewhere. This is the oddest link, seems to me.

I’d prefer to forget about Vaccines and Autism: This is Starting to Get Really Weird because I mortally offended a Catholic science writer who by all accounts is a perfectly wonderful human being who under any other circumstances I’d have gone to great lengths not to offend. But if I’m going to call out fake/bad science in general, I have an even greater duty to call it out when it’s from one of our own, as it were. Sigh. Got linked from several directions.

Is Adolescence Even Real? was linked by Jen Fullwiler. ‘Nuff said.

My Sagan Obsession has gotten linked to by John C. Wright.

LCWR and Me was also linked to by Jen Fullwiler.

In Memoriam is a page about our son Andrew’s life and death. There is talk among people here who knew him best to present his case to the bishop for being declared a ‘Servant of God’ – we just recently heard about this, as 2017 will be the 5-year anniversary of his death, the earliest this process can begin. All I can say is: wow. God only knows if these efforts will amount to anything or go anywhere, but I’m touched and a bit awed that people are even thinking of it. So, if you feel inclined to pray about this, please do, that God’s will be done.

And so on. After these posts, all time hits drop below 500 on any individual piece. The top post on education history is The Higher Education Mish-Mash. I suppose one of the things I ended up wanting this blog to do was to incite a little interest in the roots of our current educational system. So far, I’m mostly preaching to the choir, it seems, but have had some much-appreciated push-back by a few intrepid souls. As I am wont to say to people: I don’t want you to believe me, I want you to look into it yourselves! I may try to push a little harder (whatever that means) to get more eyeballs on some of the education stuff I hope to be posting on in the upcoming year.

Again, thanks to everyone for reading and encouraging me, commenting and correcting me. I don’t know how close I am to 1 million words on this blog, but I can’t be too far off by now. I’m expecting magic: 1 million words tossed out there, and *boom* – I’m a great blogger.

That is how it works, right?  😉

  1. But seriously, if anyone has figured out what “wither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk, dead and interred’ means, I’m all ears. One can just speculate that Donne had some weird image of all the bedding shoved toward the end of the bed and onto the floor by a restless sleeper, but that makes no sense. I’m betting that ‘bed’s feet’ is some slang or euphemism. Other than that, I think I understand the poem as well as anyone can.  Oh – here’s an idea: does bed’s feet refer to a footlocker or blanket chest, typically kept at the foot of the bed? Then, as winter rolls in, and as all the blankets come out, the things of summer – and love – are packed away – ‘dead, and interred’ – until next spring. This fits nicely with the imagery and thrust of rest of the poem. Maybe I’ll have to update that analysis…


Here’s what my life looked at 7:30 on Thanksgiving morning:


It doesn’t get much more civilized than that! I’d say fine coffee, a tasty pastry and a good book – and a nice hat (1)- represent an apex of culture just below a Latin High Mass in a great cathedral.

Well, maybe not that good, but pretty good.

Son-back-from-college signed up to run in a 5K that started at 8:00 a.m. Thanksgiving day morning; I went with to drop him off early to register. Had some time to kill, Peet’s was open, and thus I found myself in the geek Nirvana pictured above.

Thank you, Lord, for my children, who are finer human beings than I had any right to hope for;

for my beloved wife;

for life in a land of plenty in a time of peace;

for life, health, and an abundant sufficiency of all material things;

for my Czech ancestors, who brought the faith from Moravia to East Texas to California and to me.

Accept our thanks, O Lord, and have mercy on our many failings.


  1. Nearly had the Full Briggs going: I’d put on a tie, grabbed a jacket and a hat, because the next thing I’d be doing after the race was gathering up the rest of the family and heading off to Mass, and I need the hat to keep my bald head warm. The Full Briggs, as I understand it (and, being a Californian, I may be incapable of truly appreciating it) is for grown men to wear a suit, tie and hat as default clothing, only deigning to dress otherwise for specific purposes, such as if one were a professional wrestler or  astronaut or something. As a native Californian who grew up amidst surfers and welders, my reaction to this could be summed as: Whoa. Dude. Those noir shamuses do look pretty natty, I must confess.

Night Land Humor

(Note: the following will make little sense if you haven’t read the book. I found this stuff I’d written a few years back, and thought I might share. Shared a couple before, but what the hey.)

Yes, if you’ve read William Hope Hodgson’s epic masterpiece, The Night Land (flawed, for sure, but epic nonetheless), you will have noticed an equally epic lack of humor. Night Land makes the Book of Job read like stand-up comedy. This could be remedied.

The second half of the book consists of about 100,000 words covering the relationship of the Hero with Naania, the damsel in extreme distress whom he is rescuing. They have plenty of time, it seems, for intricate interactions that look a little like flirting engaged in by a couple of people whose hinges are a bit off-plumb – while trying not to get eaten by giant slugs and ape-men and other unpleasant creatures. After the first novella’s worth of words devoted to these odd interactions, teasing, weirdly soft porn level ‘discipline’ and overall moments of WHAT THE HELL? STOP THAT! GET OUT OF THERE! RUN! RUUUUN!, it gets a LITTLE OLD.

The story is told first person from the hero’s side. Let’s just say I doubt his objectivity. From his perspective, this story is pure Homeric epic, with him risking all and defying the dark gods to save his beloved. One must wonder how the story would look from the point of view of Naania, she who has called telepathically for a savior, gotten a response, but had her fortress city surrounded and then overrun by nightmare creatures who devour body, mind and soul while she waits for rescue, is forced to hide, defenseless amidst a dark landscape of utter horror while the few survivors are hunted down and dismembered for fun before her eyes, hoping, then despairing of rescue. Then one guy shows up – it’s the two of them against the mustered forces of Eeeevil! Might it have seemed a little different? I think it might have.

Pays Nuit
How it seemed to Our Hero


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Might have looked a bit more like this from Naania’s POV.

Fragments of the Diary of the Lady Naania of the Lesser Redoubt

As the Earth Current fails, it seems I have a gift few in the Lesser Redoubt possess – I am not an idiot.

There’s got to be some way to make it out of this alive. I’ve been broadcasting a distress signal for months, and some guy in the Great Redoubt answered. What do I need to do to get him to send a heavily armed team to get me the hell out of here? Let’s lay on the girlish charm.

Galahad seems to think I’m some long-lost lover of his – hey, whatever works. Now rescue this maiden in distress, you manly-man, whoever you are.

So, this herd of squirrels I’m stuck with opened the damn doors! WTF?! Now I’m huddled in a ditch hiding from the Deity-Who-Oddly-Must Never-Be-Named damned monsters that infest this area. This isn’t going well.

The records show that, at one time, the millions in the Great Redoubt had some serious firepower, and could lay waste to these monsters from miles away. They had flying machines, for crying out loud! So Galahad here shows up alone, on foot, armed with a circular saw on a stick? Holy hell.

If I have to play coy again to get this lunk to keep moving, I’m going to puke up both of these freaking tablets.  

The snuggles, the kisses and the ‘inadvertent’ glimpses of the goods have got Galahad completely under control.  Now, get me the hell out of here!


Reading Update!

Reading a bunch lately, such a relief. Now that I’ve plowed through Brian Niemeier’s Souldancer (which I will need to read again in order to review it), a collection of essays by Chesterton called In Defense of Sanity (micro-review: read it. I’ve read it a couple-three times, and it just gets better.),  Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel Griffin books and John C. Wright’s Moth and Cobweb stuff and await further installments, I have only William Brigg’s Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics  remaining on the High Guilt Book Pile (the Somewhat Lower But Still Pretty High Guilt Book Pile is still, um, large.) So… Let’s get some more books!


The top is a hardcover replacement for my well-thumbed and falling apart paperback – had to be done. Marrou’s take is over 60 years old, but I haven’t come across anything better. Lovely review of education in the ancient world, a key to understanding where we’ve been and thus where we’re going.

Next, had to get some dead tree versions of the Rachel Griffin books to give to my daughters for Christmas.

Finally, need to put the latest Menelaus Montrose yarn right behind Brigg’s book. What has the old – and I do mean old – coot been up to? Besides saving the world and pining for his beloved?

Also looking for a hard cover of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, as both my and my wife’s college copies are self-destructing, which, while totally and poetically appropriate, makes it hard to read them.

Oops. Made the mistake of looking through  my saved books, so also ordered

Don’t want to get too far out in front of the headlights, here, but I’m strongly suspicious that Fr. Shields is one of the great villains in the history of Catholic education in America. Like all great villains, his story is sympathetic to a large degree. But what he did – trying to provide a ‘scientific’ basis to education via the nascent pseudo-sciences of psychology – proved and continues to prove disastrous. The bishops at the time (around 1900) were dominated by men who saw the public schools as the enemies of Catholicism that they most certainly were and remain. Shields ignored them – you know, his bosses –  and published textbooks for kids and, like the one above, for teachers. He thought that the ‘scientific’ schools, with their graded classrooms, spoon-fed curricula, and make-you-stupid pedagogy then being rammed down throats all over America were OK with a little tweaking by smart guys like him. He got his ideas out and accepted by working around the bishops and pouring them into the desperate need of Catholic schools for texts.

Like I said, I don’t really know – yet. But this is all very suspicious….

And I’ve got three more books to read that represent the apex of everything I’ve come to loathe and hate. Fortunately, being possessed of a cultivated mind, I can actually suspend judgement and read to understand – a skill all but vanished from the world, even and especially among the well-schooled.  Rules for Radicals, Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and a collection of the writings of Gramsci. Good times, huh?

I also found a collection of the speeches of Mussolini. Tempting, Hammy, very tempting…

Where are the casualties?

Please read The Real War on Science by John Tierney, of whom I knew nothing before reading the article linked (name was vaguely familiar). Writer for the NYT, which is supposed to confer non-fake status (non-fake if one has forgotten Walter Duranty, among others. I haven’t.)  However, since he says a lot of what I’m trying to say, in my own humble way, on this blog, we’ll set that aside for now.  

He begins thus:

My liberal friends sometimes ask me why I don’t devote more of my science journalism to the sins of the Right. It’s fine to expose pseudoscience on the left, they say, but why aren’t you an equal-opportunity debunker? Why not write about conservatives’ threat to science?

My friends don’t like my answer: because there isn’t much to write about. Conservatives just don’t have that much impact on science. I know that sounds strange to Democrats who decry Republican creationists and call themselves the “party of science.” But I’ve done my homework. I’ve read the Left’s indictments, including Chris Mooney’s bestseller, The Republican War on Science. I finished it with the same question about this war that I had at the outset: Where are the casualties?

Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples.

All three are in his first chapter, during Mooney’s brief acknowledgment that leftists “here and there” have been guilty of “science abuse.” First, there’s the Left’s opposition to genetically modified foods, which stifled research into what could have been a second Green Revolution to feed Africa. Second, there’s the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and would be devastated if the activists succeeded in banning animal experimentation. Third, there’s the resistance in academia to studying the genetic underpinnings of human behavior, which has cut off many social scientists from the recent revolutions in genetics and neuroscience. Each of these abuses is far more significant than anything done by conservatives, and there are plenty of others. The only successful war on science is the one waged by the Left. (emphasis mine)

Mostly good stuff, but with a few important gaps/omissions/dissemblings. From the first paragraph, check out:

Conservatives just don’t have that much impact on science.

Now, in context, a generous person would read that to say: When it comes to pseudoscience disrupting real science, Conservatives don’t have much of an effect. But that’s not what it says. What it says is rather more – dismissive?

This little bit of editorial oversight might seem like nit-picking, but I think not. Further on, he opines:

The danger from the Left does not arise from stupidity or dishonesty; those failings are bipartisan. Some surveys show that Republicans, particularly libertarians, are more scientifically literate than Democrats, but there’s plenty of ignorance all around. Both sides cherry-pick research and misrepresent evidence to support their agendas. Whoever’s in power, the White House plays politics in appointing advisory commissions and editing the executive summaries of their reports. Scientists of all ideologies exaggerate the importance of their own research and seek results that will bring them more attention and funding.

This, I think, is the flat moral universe I rail about just peeking out from behind the curtains. Those who do no damage to science despite their ideological opposition to some of science’s findings are just the same, morally, as those who, as the rest of the essay makes clear, foment ideologically-driven hysteria that results in real people really suffering harm and, in the case of Africans dying of malaria and Chinese women undergoing forced abortions, dying. Only where one accepts a weirdly flat world, where the difference between Stalin and Buffalo Bill(1) is *this* tiny can the difference between hurting people’s feeling and killing them be insignificant enough to casually dismiss.

Thus, the Left and the Right are equally guilty – except, as the essay clearly lays out, in the real world, anti-science is a distracting and ineffective hobby when engaged in by the Right, but a central structural element of the Left. How else to understand the wild disparity in academia? Only someone chugging cool-aide could believe that college faculty in all fields where reality doesn’t trump theory are overwhelmingly leftists as a result of some sort of meritocracy.

Scientists try to avoid confirmation bias by exposing their work to peer review by critics with different views, but it’s increasingly difficult for liberals to find such critics. Academics have traditionally leaned left politically, and many fields have essentially become monocultures, especially in the social sciences, where Democrats now outnumber Republicans by at least 8 to 1. (In sociology, where the ratio is 44 to 1, a student is much likelier to be taught by a Marxist than by a Republican.) The lopsided ratio has led to another well-documented phenomenon: people’s beliefs become more extreme when they’re surrounded by like-minded colleagues. They come to assume that their opinions are not only the norm but also the truth.

Some sage said that tradition is the solution to problems we’ve forgotten. So, academics ‘traditionally’ lean left? For some mysterious reasons that might have to do with the modern research university (the Prussian Model university) being designed from the ground up as a tool for reshaping society and culture to better suit those in charge (2), almost all the faculty are leftists. This fact might *be* the problem itself; everything else under discussion in the essay is just the fallout from this one fact.

The narrative that Republicans are antiscience has been fed by well-publicized studies reporting that conservatives are more close-minded and dogmatic than liberals are. But these conclusions have been based on questions asking people how strongly they cling to traditional morality and religion—dogmas that matter a lot more to conservatives than to liberals. A few other studies—not well-publicized—have shown that liberals can be just as close-minded when their own beliefs, such as their feelings about the environment or Barack Obama, are challenged.

It means something different to a leftist than to a normal person to say science should not be political – a normal person can conceive of science outside both left and right pieties, while a leftists thinks his pieties ARE where science lives. That’s the whole religious aspect to Marxism and Progressivism in general, why we are asked ad nauseam  to pronounce ‘Shibboleth’ – to say if we *believe* in science or progress or evolution or global warming or some such. Science can only be discussed using the language of faith. This religious aspect is both blindingly obvious and completely denied and ignored.

Anyway, read the essay. The points raised good, even if Mr Tierney writes as if he hopes to continue getting published by the NYT – a hope certain to be dashed if he displayed any more honesty than he displayed here.

  1. Buffalo Bill was a scout during the Indian Wars, so, oppressor.
  2. From the Oracle Wikipedia: “For the reformers, the reform of the Prussian education system (Bildung) was a key reform. All the other reforms relied on creating a new type of citizen who had to be capable of proving themselves responsible and the reformers were convinced that the nation had to be educated and made to grow up. …In place of a wide variety of religious, private, municipal and corporative educational institutions, he (Humboldt) suggested setting up a school system divided into Volksschule (people’s schools), Gymnasiums and universities.” He ‘suggested’ in such a way that school-age kids were marched off into the new state schools at bayonet point. In case the goal here is not clear, Humboldt appointed Fichte head of the new University of Berlin – the Fichte who said: “Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.” See how that works? The only competition, then, is in deciding who will be the school masters otherwise than which properly schooled children cannot think.

Sunday Flash Fic

Again, following my policy of being unread in as many venues as possible, here is the vignette I threw down today at Sara Hoyt’s blog.

Prompt: Somewhere.

She moved the ether. A parade of black holes were displayed in 4 dimensional glory. She did not see what she sought. Tesseracts arrayed themselves across ‘time’. No good. Time knots and threads, masses of quantum-entangled particles, even physical space – she probed and found nothing.

The entire universe, rent, folded, linked, punctured, lay bare before her mind, every nook and cranny of space and time and things beyond space and time.


“Now, where did that boy get to?”

Tuesday Afternoon Flash Fiction

(Somebody in my Chesterton reading group suggested Platonic Noir. They shouldn’t have. They *really* shouldn’t have.)

The dank streets of Athens stank of sweat and shattered dreams. Or maybe that was just me, an old stonecutter with attitude, questions and an inexplicable following of handsome young men. Yea, I had some questions, questions that needed answers.

Uptown was lousy with Spartans, so I’d headed down to  Piraeus. I needed to deliver something to ‘the Goddess’, and thought I might as well check in on some old friends. Besides, I have a soft spot for the horses, and I had it on good authority they’d be running that night.

A page boy saw me and delivered a message. Polemarchus wanted to see me, which was good by me, as a few of the questions I had were for him.

“Socrates, you old goat!”

“Good to see you, too, Marc.”

“For crying out loud!” Polemarchus drew up short. “Did Xanthippe hit you with a chamber pot again? The gods are OK with bathing, you know.”

“That is not why I am here,” I cut to the chase, “I’m looking for justice.”

“Aren’t we all.”

“Word on the street is that you have some ideas how a fellah might find some.”

A crowd of the usual suspects had begun to gather. This might take some time, time I might not have. And I had my doubts. In this hellhole of vice and luxury, I’d be lucky to find a decent condiment-free wheat cake, let alone justice.

Post Election Schooling Rant

Winston S. Churchill(Should I wait a full week? Nah.)

“My education was interrupted only by my schooling.” – Churchill

It doesn’t have to be this way. Plato and Aristotle didn’t go to graded classroom schools for 16 years; Hypatia and Hildegard of Bingen didn’t sit in desks with 50 kids the same age getting lectured. Even today, on the off chance you find truly educated adults, there’s no chance they got that way via a standard k-12 education. Like Churchill above, at best, they got that way despite it.

Based on the available evidence, the typical department head at our major universities isn’t nearly as well educated as, say, David Farragut or Abigail Adams, a couple of American heroes who, as we might put it today, were educated via some combination of homeschooling, independent study and tutoring. Back then, pretty much everybody who was educated was educated in such a manner. Based, again, on the available evidence, there was a far larger percentage of truly well-educated people back then than there is today.(1)  This predates the insane herd-everybody-together-by-age model imposed on us by our self-appointed betters over the last 150 years.

Throughout all of history down to this day, no well-educated people got that way by sitting in a desk and learning to regurgitate answers from a textbook. The very idea is only 200 years old; it wasn’t tried in America until well into the 19th century, and didn’t come to completely dominate education here until about 75 years ago. Up until maybe 40 years ago, one could even come across teachers who, whatever the designs of the system, were intent on educating their charges, and sometimes even succeeded. Now? Such an one will have the entire weight of established practice brought to bear on him, to bring him in line.

Image result for school of athens
Plato and Aristotle walk and talk as friends. Not a desk in sight.

So, what is it that we are supposed to learn, that we had to throw out thousands of years of educational experience and success and replace it with a rigid, insulting and compulsory model?

The questions are at the end of the chapter. The answers are in the teacher’s book. 

In a way, that’s it. That’s all there is to it. Materials are presented; the allowed or insisted upon questions are asked; the correct answers are given. Rinse. Repeat.

For 12 to 16 years.

You think it’s about reading? If it were, the first day of school children would be asked to show how well or not they can read, and then those that could already read would be excused while those who needed (and wanted?) some help would get it. Is that what happens? Why not?  Math? People who want their kids to learn math send them to the Russian School of Mathematics or Khan academy or use some other non-school approach. If your goal was to make kids loath math, on the other hand, you could hardly do better than the current practices found in our schools.

And so on. A successful school kid’s ignorance of reading and math, not to mention science, history, literature, ‘civics’ and so on is profound, such that around half of the super-elite students who attend the University of California – the kids with 4.0+ GPAs, numerous Advanced Placement classes, and high SAT scores – have to take remedial classes in math and writing in order to succeed in college-level classes. This, by the way, after decades during which college has been dumbed down.

So, what exactly did they *do* K-12? Less time and effort devoted to ‘education’ in the past resulted in a good number of multi-lingual (Greek and Latin) kids who could do calculus, play musical instruments, draw convincingly, knew their history, geography, how our government was supposed to work, and so on. Now? What is the time spent doing?

Have you witnessed, inside school or out, the ritual whereby the authority figure asks some version of “Who can tell me X?” with the expectation that kids (of all ages) will raise their hands and shout out answers? The telling part is that no matter how much the question is couched in ‘there is no wrong answer’ or ‘there is more than one right answer’ or ‘I want to know your opinion’ language, the authority figure is just asking in order to receive *one* answer – his answer.

We know he has received his right answer when he moves on to his next point. (2)  He asks the question not out of interest in hearing what the people think, but rather to test how well they can regurgitate what it is they have been told or how quickly they can get in line with the group behind the right answer. (3) He may think he’s asking in order to get their attention – that’s the usual thought, mixing it up a bit so that it’s not just the speaker droning on and on – but he could get it by asking a legitimate question where he does not know the answer. That virtually never happens.

This lie – it is a lie to claim to be asking for opinions or views when in fact you are hunting for one ‘correct’ answer(4) – has been practiced on us so often and from such a young age that we’ve incorporated it into our intellectual and social background. This is a fancy way of saying we’ve been inured to how outrageous, petty and manipulative it is.

I mention this as a relatively trivial example of what we’ve become as a nation. We are a nation of parrots, of perpetual children.

Of slaves.

Elections have become a giant game of ‘who can tell me the answer I want to hear?’.  Over that decade and a half of intense (and getting more intense) training, we are made to identify with what the schools tell us we are. We are the smart kids, we got the grades – that’s who we are! We name the resulting group-think ‘critical thinking’ – an Orwellian phrase for an activity that involves neither criticism nor thought.

Weepy hysteria results when other people refuse to give the right answer, the answer all right-thinking people insist on – because the wrong answer flies in the face of all that training, all those gold stars and pats on the head and acceptance letters to colleges and good grades and degrees, all the material and especially psychological goodies one gets for telling the teacher the answers the teacher wants to hear, class after class, day after day, year after year, for a decade and a half.  This is not about losing an election – it is about having a world view crushed. We got a buffoon instead of a felonious traitor. This result requires burning the cars of strangers?

This observation is not, at its roots, partisan, although in the just passed elections it played out that way, more or less. Both parties support the schools, arguing, rather, just over how many and in what pattern the deck chairs should be rearranged. No iceberg is ever sighted. The problem for me, even as I take some comfort in watching so many of the correct heads explode, is that the enemy is playing the long game, and has been for a century or more. We can already see how many young people, deluded into thinking they are the brightest, best educated and most moral people the world has ever known (thus being immunized against self-reflection and ever learning anything) are convinced that this election was a DISASTER! And it was, for the regurgitate on demand world of schooling. But unless these kids can break this illusion, realize that they are just as ignorant, stupid and prone to immoral acts as anyone else now or ever, they will, with righteous zeal, be right back at it like the perfect little clone army they have trained to be.

  1. Chesterton, on the advantages of being educated as the Puritans were educated versus modern education: “Nobody could read the Bible without gaining a glorious mass of information about fighting, about faith, about religions true and false, about mystical or magical or mysterious beings such as hover round man in all the legends and literature of the world. The little boys who grew up in the dark Calvinistic houses of our great-grandfathers did, in actual fact, grow up with their heads full of a noble noise of conflict and crisis; valiant and vigorous action described in the grandest English that our national history has known; the noise of the captains and the shouting; the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof; and he that drew a bow at a venture and smote the king between the joints of the harness; and he whose driving was known from afar off, for he drove furiously. That, under all its other disadvantages, is what I call being educated; certainly it is being much better educated than a miserable little prig who must not be told that Joan of Arc carried a battle-banner, but must be assured that she only carried an umbrella.” On the New Prudery, 1935
  2. Who has not experienced the hilarity of watching some teacher or speaker play this game, yet having the audience not promptly supply the right answer? How they will sputter and plead and shame. This is the sign of an amatuer. Pros recognize that this game is a variation on the rule of Sun Tzu (or maybe it’s Machiavelli? Both?): never give an order you are not sure will be obeyed.
  3. A side benefit: courtiers and sycophants sometimes find themselves in situations where they have not been given specific instructions on what responses and behaviors their lords and masters expect. Here we practice the only logical process required of such followers: inferring from what is known to what must be – in their god’s head. That this also provides an opportunity for delightful torture of said courtiers and sycophants is a bonus – for the lords and masters. Handy for picking out who’s not fully with the program and making examples of people. It’s a superset including the “Don’t be the first one to stop clapping” thing. (pp 69-70) 
  4. Even when it’s clear that the speaker is asking for the one correct answer, the public nature of the interaction – someone will be praised, others risk being shamed – makes this a dubious practice at best. It is using group pressure to make people get in line with whatever the group seems to think.


Chesterton Quotation

I HAVE discovered that the New Prudery is much narrower and more prudish than the Old Prudery; even of the most dingy and dismal latter days of Puritanism. The discovery interests me not a little, for I always thought I had a pure and perfect and spotless hatred of the ordinary sort of Puritanism. But the pure Puritan is not so grim and negative and repressive as the pure Progressive, The New Prudery does not come out of stale sects or old shabby chapels: it comes out of all the new clubs, new leagues, new guilds of art and culture, new summer schools of science and philanthropy. It is altogether a thing of the Future; or at least of the Futurists, who think they will dominate the Future. It is even notably a thing of the young, and, what is far more extraordinary, of the young who would call themselves the free. And the Ten Commandments of the Christian, or even the Ten Hundred Commandments of the Puritan, are themselves like perfect freedom compared with the terrorism and rigidity of its new Taboos.

On the New Prudery, Avowals and Denials, G. K. Chesterton, 1935